by Karen Covy -Divorce lawyer and advisor in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of When Happily Ever After Ends: How to Survive Your Divorce Emotionally, Financially and Legally.
As I was up to my elbows in compost and worms the other day, it occurred to me that divorce is a lot like gardening: it’s hard work, takes an enormous amount of time, and the results are never guaranteed. Surprisingly, the techniques and tactics you use to grow a good garden are very similar to those that will help you survive your divorce, and set you up to thrive afterwards.
Here are 8 gardening lessons that can help you in your divorce.
1. How you start matters. If you take the time to overturn your soil well in the spring, plant your seeds carefully, and water your garden with care, you have a much better chance that the seeds you planted will germinate and grow. The same is true of divorce. If you take the time to explore the different ways you can get divorced (collaborative divorce, mediation, negotiation, arbitration, and litigation) and you carefully choose the divorce process that you believe will work best for you BEFORE you file for divorce, you will have a much better chance of getting through the divorce process without doing major damage to your family, your finances and your future.
2. Planning is essential for success. The most successful gardeners plan their gardens with care, making sure that each crop is planted in its own space, with the right amount of sun and the proper type of soil. Divorce is no different. You need to identify what you want and need, as well as what your spouse and your kids want and need. Then you need to work with your divorce professionals to lay out a plan that will systematically move you towards achieving your goals.
3. Too much heat burns up everything. Pursuing a scorched earth policy is as bad for your divorce as it is for a garden. You might think that by fighting your spouse tooth and nail you will have a better chance of getting everything you want. In reality, you will destroy most of what there was to get. Once you start a fire, you often find out that it is impossible to control the blaze.
4. A little water goes a long way. Compassion is something that is usually in short supply in any divorce. Each party is worried about his/her own survival. Neither party trusts the other. Both are afraid of being taken advantage of by the other. One or both are usually worried about the kids. In this situation, it is easy to let fear carry you away. If, instead of demonizing your spouse, and reacting out of fear, you can find a way to be just a little bit kind to your spouse (even if s/he doesn’t deserve it!) and act with compassion, you may find that you end up getting more of your own needs met, while making the divorce process a whole lot easier on everyone. (Oh, and being kind to yourself along the way helps a lot, too!)
5. If you don’t pull the weeds, your harvest will be slim. The weeds in divorce are fears. Divorce is full of fear – fear of the unknown, fear of being alone, fear of not having enough money to survive, fear of losing your kids, fear of hurting your kids. The list of fears goes on and on. Some fears, like the fear of being alone, you just have to confront and pull out. You are going to be alone (at least for awhile) and the sooner you get comfortable with that, and start dealing with it, the happier you will be. Other fears – like the fear of being financially devastated – need to be coaxed out with care, as you seek out new employment, or take steps to shore up your finances so that you can survive your divorce and thrive afterwards.
6. There is no substitute for hard work. Closing your eyes to the weeds in your garden will not make them go away. Closing your eyes to the issues in your divorce will not make them go away either. You have to work to pull the weeds, water the garden and get rid of the bugs and the pests. Similarly, you have to take the time to gather your documents, make a financial plan, separate from your spouse and establish a parenting schedule. You have to deal with the court process, create a new lifestyle and get a handle on your emotional issues. Divorce is a ton of work! But, if you put the time in now, once your divorce is over, you will emerge on the other side a stronger, more confident and (hopefully) happier person.
7. Fertilizer helps a lot. You can grow a garden without ever fertilizing it, but your harvest will be much more bountiful if you make sure your plants get the vitamins and minerals they need to grow to their fullest potential. In divorce, your fertilizer is your divorce team. It is the lawyer, therapist, financial planner, coach, support group, and friends that you put together to support and guide you through your divorce. Can you get through your divorce without some, or all, of these people? Of course you can. Will you get through it as well? I doubt it.
8. Everything grows in its own time. It takes longer to grow a pumpkin than a radish. You may not like that fact, but no matter how much light, water, and fertilizer you give the pumpkin, it is never going to grow as fast as a radish. The same is true of divorce. One person almost always emotionally processes the divorce faster than the other. If that person tries to push the slower person into finishing the divorce before the slower person is ready, an ugly (and lengthy) battle usually results. The bottom line? You can’t rush a divorce any more than you can rush a garden.